More than 20 states have responded to the country's economic collapse by reducing the state payroll, or are planning to do so in the coming year. New York's lawmakers don't want to join them and upset the public employee unions. But with one of the largest budget deficits in the nation, New York must recognize this necessary cutback.

Gov. David A. Paterson has suggested reducing the workweek to four days for about 100,000 state workers, until a budget deal passes. The measure would save $30 million for each furlough day. State offices would stay open with smaller staffs, and emergency workers would be exempted. If the state is truly running out of cash, as the governor says, then it is past time to begin saving this kind of money.

Had the State Legislature faced up to needed cuts before this point, the furlough might not be necessary. But the 2010-11 budget is four weeks overdue, while lawmakers continue their leisurely, three-day-a-week work schedule.

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Meanwhile, the unions are threatening to sue. Still, if there's no budget agreement, Paterson should include the four-day week in an extender bill on May 10 - meaning lawmakers will have to choose between the furlough and shuttering state government.

Why must New York have its back to the wall before it makes prudent fiscal choices? State workers' unions hold a lot of power, but they should compromise now for the common good. hN